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luthien-elvenprincess 01-20-2007 11:15 AM

East of the Barrow
I would like other's thought concerning the hobbit's capture by the barrow-wight.

Tom Bombadil warned the hobbits more than once to "pass barrows by on the west-side, if they chanced to stray near one."
In "Fog on the Barrow-Downs", the mood seems to be cheerful and upbeat when the hobbits arrive at the hollow circle. But a foreboding enters the story when "But even as (Frodo) spoke he turned his glance eastwards...". Then, the hobbits sit facing east with their backs against the stone in the middle of the hollow circle. Lingering too long at this stone sets the stage for them to be captured by the barrow-wight.

Question: Would the hobbits had been captured if they had stayed to the west of the barrow. Are there any superstitions regarding the east side of a barrow that Tolkien was using for this part of the story?

Lalwendė 01-20-2007 11:31 AM

Yes, there are! To pass by a barrow (and then in later days a church) anti-clockwise (as they would have done if they passed on the East) was very bad luck - this is known as going widdershins. The correct way to pass by was to deisil or sunwise (which always makes me think of Samwise, funnily enough).

The belief comes from going counter to the direction of the Sun, which the ancients worshipped. You would not only be disrespecting the Sun but also you would be unable to see your shadow; a lot of Barrows also had entrances which faced east or south-east, which in the case of the Barrows on the Downs would need to be avoided!

It comes up in folklore in the tale of Childe Rowland where a sister runs around the local church widdershins to get her brothers' ball, and is thus whisked off to faerieland; good version in Martin Carthy's song Jack Rowland. It's important in Pagan belief, as the Wiccan Rede includes the following:


Deisil go by the waxing Moon. Sing and dance the Wiccan rune.
Widdershins go when the Moon does wane. And the Werewolf howls by the dread Wolfsbane.
And my Dad even used to say never to go Widdershins around anything. ;)

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